Scott Gordon, hired Tuesday night to coach the Islanders, definitely has the resume to win a Stanley Cup. We know this because it is the same as Peter Laviolette's, and we saw what happened to him.
These days it is a major compliment to be compared to Laviolette, hired seven years ago to coach the Islanders, bounced after two seasons and ending up with his name on the Cup as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. The similarities here are flat-out weird, starting with the fact that Gordon is an NHL neophyte but was American Hockey League coach of the year with the Providence Bruins, just like Laviolette once was.
Let this be the first official endorsement of Gordon, who - Laviolette's example attests - will be just fine if the Islanders give him a chance and some talent to work with, not necessarily in that order.
Let the record also read that coaching has not been the Islanders' problem. Laviolette was good, opening with a franchise-record 9-0-1-1 run. Steve Stirling and Ted Nolan brought the Islanders to the playoffs, too. Laviolette's problem was supposedly failing to communicate with the players, Stirling's was inheriting a team built around Alexei Yashin, the ultimate uncoachable player, and Nolan's was not getting along with general manager Garth Snow.
Anyone who has watched the team closely can tell you that the real trouble is that the Islanders haven't been able to build a strong roster. It is easier to find a coach than a 40-goal scorer. Thus, they keep changing coaches. Thus, Gordon is here.
He looks like a smart choice. He won wherever he has been (including first-place finishes with the Roanoke Express, an Islanders affiliate). People who know him say he is a good speaker, outstanding teacher, student of the game and a well-rounded person who realizes the world doesn't begin and end at the Zamboni entrance. He likes seeing his family comfortable and thriving: His wife has a successful dance studio in Atlanta (where he began minor-league coaching 12 years ago), and their two boys like it there. So the family lives in Georgia, with Jennifer and Erik and Ryan flying to visit him for stretches during the season.
By hiring him, the Islanders are trying to erase the mistake they made in firing Laviolette in 2003 - the year Gordon was elevated from assistant to head coach by the Boston Bruins' farm club. At Carolina, Laviolette successfully succeeded Paul Maurice, a finalist for the Islanders job this time around.
Small world, isn't it?
It seems Laviolette and Gordon came from the same block. Each was a U.S. Olympian who had a limited NHL career with a cup of coffee in New York (Laviolette played a handful of games for the Rangers, Gordon was in camp with the Islanders).
Each came from the same mold as the man who hired him. Laviolette, like Mike Milbury, was a hard-nosed defenseman from Massachusetts. Gordon, like Snow, is a New England-bred goalie who played for the Quebec Nordiques (21 years ago, they were training camp teammates). More pertinent, Gordon, like Laviolette in 2001, is a neophyte and won't make a GM look over his shoulder.
The new man does bring some qualities all his own. He sure seems to be able to bring out the best in Andy Hilbert, the Islanders' center who had 35 goals for Providence the year Gordon became coach. Only kidding. Gordon's best qualification is being a former goalie from Easton, Mass., who might just hit it off with a certain current goalie from Winthrop, Mass.
It wasn't all that long ago that Gordon himself was a kid, growing up with the legacy of the 1980 Olympics, responding to the echo, "Do you believe in miracles?" The next miracle he can hope for is that management will keep its fingers out of the pie, except to sign solid players.
Owner Charles Wang must avoid the usual two-year itch. Be patient with him. Gordon knows what he is doing behind a bench. Winning AHL coach of the year is nothing to sneeze at because not only did Laviolette once win that award, so did Fred Shero, John Muckler, Jacques Demers and Marc Crawford (yet another candidate for this Islanders job). "Scott is the right coach for our team," Snow said Tuesday night. What the Islanders really need is to build the team right for this coach.